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The difference between “learning objectives” and “learning outcomes”

At first glance, you may think there’s really no difference between “learning objectives” and “learning outcomes”. Even if you research the topic a little, you will often find these terms used interchangeably.

But, there are some important differences. In this article, we’ll look at those differences and why it’s important to understand them, so you can improve the effectiveness of your e-learning.

Kasper Spiro
learning outcome

Learning objectives versus learning outcomes

First, let’s get the definitions straight. A learning objective is the instructor’s purpose for creating and teaching their course. These are the specific questions that the instructor wants their course to raise. In contrast, learning outcomes are the answers to those questions. They are the specific, measurable knowledge and skills that the learner will gain by taking the course.

It might help you to think about the difference in terms of perspective. Learning objectives are usually viewed from the instructor’s perspective (what does the instructor want to accomplish?) while learning outcomes are seen more from the learner’s perspective (what will the course teach me, as a learner?). Of course, the two are closely related, because a trainer’s objectives will ultimately be translated into the learner’s outcomes, as long as the course successfully serves its purpose.

We’ve built a free and easy-to-use Learning Objective Maker so you can start creating your own goals and learning objectives.

Benefits of learning objectives

As mentioned above, learning objectives help foster a sense of purpose for all the parties involved. They enable authors and trainers to shift their focus from delivery to creating an engaging experience for learners. Learners and administration benefit too. Let’s review the advantages for each group.

Benefits for learners

  • Orientation: Learners can get a sense of what questions the course will be asking upfront. This allows them to have a better idea of the skills or knowledge changes they’ll go through by committing to a course.
  • Learner action: Subsequently, knowing the desired learning objectives beforehand enables learners to choose courses according to their interests and goals. They can review specific sections of the content, engage with the material selectively, determine whether they need different learning methods, decide on what sections to skip, or evaluate their own progress throughout the course.

Benefits for trainers and authors

  • Content planning: Knowing what questions the course or module aims to answer will likely make it easier to create the content. Trainers and authors can strategically sequence sections, determine how much time each section will take to complete, and even identify what information, features, or images are needed. In other words, they’ll have an outline they can work toward and align the content with.
  • Strategic content adjustment: For authors, learning objectives can be a prerequisite for developing follow-up content. It gives authors and trainers a chance to evaluate whether the course content accurately reflects the expected behaviors. Based on this evaluation, they’ll be able to either adjust the course content to better match the objectives or even create relevant follow-up courses.

Benefits for administrators and management

  • Better assessment: The goal of any assessment is to monitor learner progress and provide feedback to the learners. Learning objectives can simplify this process by serving as a grading guideline. Administration can rely on learning objectives as a clear standard for measuring learner progress and achievement, which can also lead to more accurate and meaningful feedback for learners.
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Before you can define learning objectives you need to identify what levels of learning you want learners to achieve. The industry standard for this is Bloom’s taxonomy, which has six levels of learning. The most basic level of learning is ‘Remembering’, and the highest level of learning is ‘Creating’.

Easygenerator helps Subject Matter Experts (without a didactics background) create effective learning objectives with our Learning Objectives Maker that has seamlessly integrated Bloom’s taxonomy into the software and allows the authors to create an objective with four easy steps.

Why are learning outcomes important?

For instructors and content authors, focusing on outcomes is a great way to improve the effectiveness of your course. That’s because it encourages you to put yourself in the learner’s shoes. By consciously putting learning outcomes into words, you gain a clearer understanding of your purpose as an instructor.

They are also valuable because they give instructors, learners, and administrators clear, measurable criteria for assessing whether a course has done its job and if you need to improve your approach to the material. If you start with a clear learning outcome in mind but find that the course fails or struggles to achieve this outcome, then you know that you need to rethink your approach.

If you are a training manager, you will probably also think of learning outcomes in financial terms. After all, your organization is investing valuable resources in its training program, so it’s important that the training content delivers a good return on that investment. Learning outcomes are precisely that return on investment.

That means clear, measurable learning outcomes are essential for evaluating whether a specific training activity is worth the time and money. If a course fails to deliver learning outcomes, it’s time to try a new strategy.

The benefits of learning outcomes

Lastly, let’s look at how clear learning outcomes improve the learning experience for the three main stakeholders of any learning program: the learners, the instructors, and the administrators/managers:

Benefits for learners

  • They give learners a better understanding of the specific knowledge and skills they will acquire during the course.
  • Focusing on outcomes from the beginning places greater emphasis on the relevant, practical knowledge and skills to be gained.
  • This makes learning more effective because learners have a clear sense of what the desired outcome looks like.
  • Clear learning outcomes also help learners see why content and assessments are relevant to them.

Benefits for educators

  • Focusing on learning outcomes puts trainers more in touch with the learner’s perspective. It also gives them a clearer sense of purpose when creating their course.
  • They help course creators choose the best assessment techniques.
  • With them, trainers have a measurable standard for judging the success of their course.

Benefits for administrators and management

  • When learning outcomes are defined, it gives managers a clear mark for measuring whether a specific course, resource, or activity has delivered a good return on investment.
  • They enable administrators to evaluate the effectiveness of their training program as a whole.
  • They act as a guide for evaluating the performance of course creators, so they can improve methods and achieve better results when needed.
  • Lastly, focusing on learning outcomes allows administrators to create a learner-focused training program, in which all activities are centered on giving learners the knowledge and tools they need for success.
Kasper Spiro founder of affordable elearning solution Easy Generator
About the author

Kasper Spiro is the Co-founder and Chief learning strategist of Easygenerator and a recognized thought leader in the world of e-learning. With over 30 years of experience, he is a frequently asked keynote speaker and well-renowned blogger within the e-learning community.

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